Otis Williams on the Success of 'Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations' Musical and the Group's New Album

Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of The Temptations
Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Jarvis B. Manning as Norman Whitfield and Ephraim Sykes as David Ruffin in "Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of The Temptations" at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

The musical Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations is marching towards Broadway, and the group's Otis Williams is on, well, cloud nine about how things are going with it so far.

The production, which tells the legendary Motown group's story through its own songs, debuted with an extended, record-breaking run at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre last year and is currently at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Los Angeles (the Ahmanson Theatre in August and September) and Toronto will follow, with a Broadway run on the radar for early 2019 -- where sole surviving founding group member Otis Williams says he would mind going mano y mano with Berry Gordy Jr.'s Motown The Musical. "We've always been a competitive organization, so it'll be a pleasure to do so," Williams tells Billboard.

And he's confident that after its successes so far, including rave reviews, Ain't Too Proud -- directed by Des McAnuff (The Who's TommyJersey Boys), from a book by Dominique Morriseau -- will hold its own again any other production on the Great White Way. "When I first saw it last fall I was very impressed," Williams relates to Billboard, "not only because it's about my life story with the Tempts, but how it was portrayed and how it touched the audience. There were people sitting in there crying. So it touches emotions, and 95 percent of it is the truth. There's some scenes in there that once you see it, you say, 'Wow, that really happened.' It's just a pleasure to see it turn out so fruitful."

Williams adds that he was particularly pleased that, like the Motown musical, Ain't Too Proud places the Temptations within the social and political context of the times. "It'll make you say, 'Wow, that's some heavy stuff in there,'" Williams notes. "But moments like that are really touching, and reminded me that the '60s were the most tumultuous decade in the last hundred years. We lived through that -- the civil rights struggle, seeing world leaders get killed in front of us. We saw a lot of wicked things happen, and now some of it's been told in our place."

Meanwhile. Williams has become acclimated to seeing himself portrayed on stage, whether by company members in the Motown musical or Derrick Baskin in Ain't Too Proud. "It's not too strange, either of 'em," Williams notes. "I talked to Derrick, and from the beginning to the end he'll be on stage singing as one of the Temptations, and when they get ready to change the scene he has to step out and do dialogue to tie it together -- and once it's tied together, he's gotta come back with the group and do the singing and choreography. So it's very interesting to me."

While Ain't Too Proud surveys the Temptations' past, the group has a very active present. In addition to its usual touring, the group released All The Times, its first new album in eight years, during May. The set features three originals, as well as arrangements of hits by Michael Jackson ("Remember The Time"), Sam Smith ("Stay With Me"), The Weeknd ("Earned It"), Ed Sheeran ("Thinking Out Loud") and others.

"We're pretty proud of it," Williams says of the set. "First of all, they're great songs, so we wanted to do them and add the Temptations flavor. We are so ingrained with the way we sing and do stuff with songs that it becomes very easy for us. Once you hear the soaring tenor and the deep bass and everything in between, it becomes the Temptations."

And Williams hopes we'll hear all that again before another eight years passes. "We'll see how this one goes," he says. "If we do real well, let's repeat history again. There's no reason not to."


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